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Guatemalan anti-corruption crusader builds large lead, on cusp of presidency

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By Cassandra Garrison and Sofia Menchu

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) -Guatemalan anti-corruption crusader Bernardo Arevalo was poised on Sunday to win the presidency after surging into a commanding lead in the election runoff against a former first-lady regarded as an establishment figure.

With 79% of the vote counted, Arevalo had a 60% to 36% percent lead over Sandra Torres.

Many Guatemalans are pinning hopes on Arevalo to reverse the democratic backsliding witnessed under past administrations.

Recent polls had predicted that Arevalo, a center-left candidate running on an anti-graft message, will trounce former first lady Torres. That outcome could usher in a new era after widespread allegations of corruption and creeping authoritarianism in recent years.

Guatemala’s new president will assume power as violence and food insecurity roil the country, triggering fresh waves of migration. Guatemalans now represent the largest number of Central Americans seeking to enter the United States.

Hours before the polls shut, both campaigns alleged sporadic voting irregularities, claims that are not uncommon during Guatemalan elections and that are often made as part of the final push to get supporters to voting booths.

There were no reports of violence or disorderliness as polls closed.

A key representative of the Organization of American States (OAS), which has a team of 86 election observers in Guatemala, said the voting had gone smoothly. Eladio Loizaga, head of the mission, said the election had “fulfilled all the demanding obligations.”

The election is being closely watched by the international community, including the United States, after campaigning was marred by attempts by some officials to remove Arevalo and his Semilla party from the race.

(Reporting by Cassandra Garrison in Guatemala City; Additional reporting by Herbert Villarraga and Sofia Menchu; Editing by Drazen Jorgic, Cynthia Osterman, Mark Porter and Paul Simao and Miral Fahmy)

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